Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford has harnessed the words of Republican presidential nominee John McCain to make his toughest argument yet against GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Lunsford began airing a new commercial Tuesday that opens with snippets of McCain's remarks from his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul nearly two weeks ago.
"We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption," McCain said in his speech in an apparent move to distance himself from some in his party who have resigned or served jail time for charges of corruption.
Lunsford's commercial, however, makes it sound as if McCain specifically mentioned McConnell, who has never been accused of any crime.
"John McCain singled out Mitch McConnell on corruption," the ad's announcer says as the spot shows McConnell.
But McCain did not mention McConnell — or any other specific person — in his remarks at the convention. Instead, the commercial refers in small print to an exchange between McCain and McCon nell on the Senate floor in 1999 over campaign finance legislation. The two Republican senators clashed over that issue in the Senate as well as in court.
The Herald-Leader recounted the exchange between the two senators in its Feb. 24, 2000, edition. McConnell prodded McCain to explain how campaign donations had poisoned the legislative system.
McCain "later turned on McConnell, portraying him as doing the tobacco industry's bidding by trying to kill anti-smoking legislation that McCain tried to push through the Senate in 1998," the article said.
McCain, speaking to the Senate about McConnell, said: "A certain senator stood up and said it was OK for you not to vote for the tobacco bill because the tobacco companies will run ads in our favor."
McConnell's campaign responded to the ad by citing McCain's quote from a fund-raiser in Louisville in June in which the two GOP Senators appeared friendly.
"Can I again say how much I appreciate the leadership and steadfastness and courage and frankly the very tough job that Senator Mitch McConnell has in Washington D.C.? It's hard trying to do the Lord's work in the 'city of sin,' and Mitch does it," McCain said at the time. "And he does it well. So thank you, Mitch, for everything."
McConnell's campaign manger, Justin Brasell, called the new commercial a "continuation of the completely false, negative campaign Lunsford has run to date."
But Democratic campaign consultant Kim Geveden — who worked for the campaign of Lunsford's opponent, Greg Fischer, in this spring's Democratic primary — said the ad "has the potential to be incredibly effective."
"It's not very often that you have the party's presidential nominee running against a member of his own party," Geveden said. "McCain's message is that Washington has failed and if Washington has failed, then McConnell has failed because he is part and parcel of the Washington establishment and Republican leadership that has been in charge most of the last eight years."
Lunsford, who has tried several different advertising approaches in recent weeks, could be successful with this approach if he continues to hammer on this particular theme between now and Nov. 4, Geveden said.
"They clearly have the message. Now the only question is can they sustain it at a significant level," he said. "McConnell has got a lot of money and can change the subject."
At the last campaign finance reporting date in July, McConnell had $9.1 million on hand compared to the Lunsford campaign's $1.3 million in the bank.
Lunsford's message also helps connect him to McCain, who is widely expected to carry Kentucky in the November presidential race. Lunsford's commercial also draws a distinction between McCain and McConnell over the issue of curtailing earmarks, in which members of congress tag specific amounts of federal money for projects in their home states.
"To the old, big-spending, me-first, country-second crowd — change is coming," McCain is shown saying in Lunsford's commercial.
Lunsford's ad points out that McConnell voted for the bill that included funding for the so-called bridge to nowhere in Alaska, which has become a symbol for wasteful spending.
McConnell has defended earmarks, most recently in Saturday's Senate debate in Northern Kentucky. "This is about whether any Congress is going to hand over to any president, regardless of party, 100 percent of the discretion about how the federal tax money is to be spent," McConnell said.